You Are a Font of Knowledge. So Why Aren’t You More Successful?

By Steven E. Sacks, CPA, CGMA, ABC

Technology has overtaken the traditional forms of communication that include face-to-face interaction, telephone conversations and of course, the handwritten or typed note slipped into an envelope, affixed with a stamp and dropped in the mailbox.

But wait. How can professionals succeed if the situation calls for in-person interaction if they have not been given the necessary training in the art of a conversation? Whether you are involved in a job interview or entertaining a potential client over a meal, how you exercise the appropriate behavior will determine whether a relationship is forged or tossed on the pile of failed results.

Civility and courtesy never go out of style, though these days these elements are challenged. Ill-formed and ill-thought emails, arrogant or impatient tones over the phone and poor body language can sabotage efforts to gain a new business. And let’s not forget the practitioner who is more interested to perform a brain dump rather than listen to the concerns of a client or a staff member.

It’s not s secret that customers, vendors, suppliers and other third parties (not to mention peers, superiors and subordinates) will respond more favorably to your entreaties if you exercise courtesy and respect.

On a visceral level, people want to do business with people they like, respect and have confidence in.

Want a break on an invoice? Express yourself clearly but courteously. Want to get an answer to a technical question from a very busy tax practitioner, use empathy and make a request that respects his or her time. You are more likely to get a timely response. Make a demand that you need the information immediately, well, good luck with that.

An Initial Impression Leads to a Long Memory

Quid pro quos are but one element that fuels commerce. Believe it or not, it also works in politics when there is trust. If you have done a good turn for someone, it will be remembered the next time you ask for a favor from the same person. Conversely, if you were dismissive when asked for assistance or advice, this, too, will be remembered. Whether you are a CPA or a car dealer, if the client or customer felt you gave him or her short shrift, you may never hear disenchantment expressed. The individual will just silently end the relationship. In the pre-internet days, the termination of this relationship would most likely remain with just the involved parties. Today with social media, your reputation will be tarnished quickly and more broadly.

Client or customer loyalty is gold. It does not fall into your lap. You must protect and nurture it. The conundrum professional service providers face is understanding what acceptable behaviors are. The marketplace is much more competitive and rough and tumble. This can result in misguided actions to earn that quick buck. In reality, you are setting the stage for developing a bad reputation. The consequences of incivility may not manifest themselves immediately; a quick “win” gained through aggressive behavior will result in a loss of repeat business accompanied by a negative image.

Changing Workplaces With Changing Demographics. Same Old Behaviors

Today’s workplaces have more women and minorities in various functions and positions of authority. I find it stunning that Silicon Valley and other bastions of technology act as if this is still the Mad Men era. Harassment, lawsuits and social media sniping have shone a light on the dichotomy between technical prowess and the understanding of social mores. Firings and resignations abound, coupled with insincere apologies. (Jeez. I had to be victimized by a whistle blower!). Sorry. It sucks to be you. Money does not make you exempt from conducting yourself as a leader and a positive influence.

If you are not sure whether frat behavior is appropriate even though your co-workers are all in their 20s and 30s, I suggest taking the high road and put yourself in their shoes. Take the advice of the late Dr. Stephen Covey: Seek first to understand. Then to be understood.

Civility, respect and etiquette do not mean you subordinate your beliefs to those of others. It just means you need to be clear and convincing but in a civil and polite manner. If you want to stay in business or move up the leadership ladder, keep courtesy, civility and respect in your back pocket.

As Mark Twain said: “To be good is noble; but to show others how to be good is nobler and no trouble.”


About Steve

Steven Sacks is the CEO of Solutions to Results, LLC, a consultancy that specializes in helping individuals, firms and organizations meet the challenges of communicating with clarity and purpose. Visit his website at